Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Robert Pearsall Smith, 20 June 1890

Date: June 20, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03845

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Contributors to digital file: Ian Faith, Ryan Furlong, Blake Bronson-Bartlett, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden New Jersey US America1
June 20 1890

This is the dinner card I thot might be a small curio for you—Am getting along fairly these days (of course steadily down hill)—we have had some very hot weather—just present just right cool enough—I get down to the river side at sunset in wheel chair2 & if the evn'g is pleasant stay an hour—had my breakfast this mn'g of oatmeal porridge black raspberries & tea—(eat only two meals a day)—miss Alys3 a good deal4—sell a book occasionally—am sitting here now in my den in Mickle St. in my big chair all comfortable quiet out—my last poem piece was rejected & sent back by the Century5—I have now been bluff'd by all the magazines here but you know I am used to that—Love to Mary6 & Logan7 & Alys & all & God bless you all8


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed:R Pearsall Smith | 44 Grosvenor Road | the Embankment | London | England. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jun 20 | 8 PM | 90; [illegible] | Jul 20 | 11 PM | [illegible]; London. S W | 29 | JU 30 | 90. [back]

2. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

3. Alyssa ("Alys") Whitall Pearsall Smith (1867–1951) was born in Philadelphia and became a Quaker relief organizer. She attended Bryn Mawr College and was a graduate of the class of 1890. She and her family lived in Britain for two years during her childhood and again beginning in 1888. She married the philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1894; the couple later separated, and they divorced in 1921. Smith also served as the chair of a society committee that set up the "Mothers and Babies Welcome" (the St Pancras School for Mothers) in London in 1907; this health center, dedicated to reducing the infant mortality rate, provided a range of medical and educational services for women. Smith was the daughter of Robert Pearsall and Hannah Whitall Smith, and she was the sister of Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945), the political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." [back]

4. Alys wrote to him from aboard ship on June 13, 1890 after her graduation from Bryn Mawr. [back]

5. Whitman's poem "On, on the Same, Ye Jocund Twain!" was rejected by the Century (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). See Whitman's letter to Bucke of June 5, 1890. See also Richard Watson Gilder's May 14 rejection letter to Whitman. The poem was eventually published in Once a Week, June 9, 1891. [back]

6. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about Costelloe, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was Robert's son. For more information on Logan, see Christina Davey "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Robert Pearsall Smith did not respond until November 14, 1890, when he observed: "I wish that you had a more attractive home than Mickle St Camden, which is a place as free from sentiment for a poets residence as could be found. But it is your choice & you are happy there as one of the uncounted millions whom your represent." [back]


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